Brandon Reich is a 30-year-old filmmaker from Austin, Texas. We met through a mutual friend at a Create for the Kingdom event in 2014, and subsequently got to work together on a 48-hour film project. I quickly learned that underneath this guy’s chill, unassuming exterior was a seriously skilled filmmaker with a terrific, off-the-wall sense of humor. I’ve gotten to see even more of those qualities from a distance while following his work over the past few years, so I knew he would be an interesting person to include in Everyday Creators!
What stuck out to me most from our interview is just how dang happy Brandon sounds when he talks about film. He has his challenges and puts serious work into his craft, but I didn’t get the impression of a significant love/hate kind of relationship with film that I’ve seen in other filmmakers (myself included). Even if your projects don’t lean towards comedy like his, I found his insights below to be a great reminder to just have fun with it.
How did you fall in love with film?
At an early age, probably 13. I used to make, not really short films, but more like sketches and stuff with friends — anything to entertain ourselves and make each other laugh. We got a lot of inspiration from the show Jackass. We had one rule, if anybody got hurt, as long as the camera was rolling, it was okay! I’d say that was the beginning of my love for it for sure, just being able to capture those moments and watch them over and over.
A lot of your work tends to be comedy sketches, do you feel like that’s definitely where your passion lies within film or that’s just what you’re good at so that’s what you’ve stuck with?
That’s where my roots are, for sure. I love comedy. I have a great respect for telling truth through comedy, and I’ve tried a few times to make serious things, but they always come out unintentionally funny. Back when I was 14, my friends and I were like, “All right, no more sketches, maybe this is something we can take seriously.” So we decided to do a serious drama — and it starts off with one of my friends immediately doing drugs, and it just turned out hilarious.
I think there’s something special about satire, like if you have a really meaningful story and tweak it just a bit, then it’s funny. I think comedy’s unique in that it works across the board: you can have action with comedy, you can have fantasy with comedy, anything works.
What do most people not know about your type of work or your personal creative process?
I think each process is never the same. Sure, I’m constantly drawing from what I’ve learned and done previously, but I guess what terrifies me and also energizes me is that it’s always different. There’s a lot of room to grow with each project because you’re constantly experiencing something new or a different challenge.
I’m consistently learning that you need to focus on story first, and for me the story’s driven by the characters. So if you don’t have interesting characters with a unique point of view that are going to drive the story forward, then it’ll fall flat, or it will feel plot-driven and then become predictable by the audience. I’ve definitely learned from Second City and those comedy venues that you can watch interesting characters all day, and as long as they’re entertaining, an audience will be on board.
Right now one of your jobs is with the Austin Film Society — what do you do?
I teach an after-school film program three days a week through the Austin Film Society. There’s some pretty wild kids out there. [laughs] It’s the most rewarding and the most challenging job that I’ve ever had in my life. But it’s extremely flexible; I can be creative and make my own curriculums for them. I learn a lot from them, like how to be creative… because they’re elementary kids, they don’t have that filter of self-judgement. They think of anything. We just did a commercial for selling unicorns. They’re coming up with the craziest, out-there ideas and they’re just game for everything. [laughs] I can definitely learn from them since with so much of my writing, I’m like, “Nah, that’s not cool,” or “That won’t be a good idea.”
You’re one of the few people who has a day job that’s at all related to their creative work. Do you ever struggle to keep your personal creativity separate from your “work-mode” creativity?
Yes and no. It is tiring, like some days all creative energy or just energy in general is just gone at the end of the day. At the same time I feel like freelancing is equally as scary as it is good, and that’s the nature of the beast. You’ll get a job, it’ll last two weeks, and you’re doing what you love and it’s tiring, but then there are those waves of time when I’m not working — and when I say not working, I mean not getting paid to be a camera operator or whatever — and it’s during those down times when I’m freaking out in a good way about utilizing that time. There’s some fear motivating creativity. I think freelancing has made me really value time in general.
I think teaching has helped me with consistency in that I see that I’m more productive with a routine. Going to church once a week, teaching three days a week, I have Wednesdays that I kayak with my Parks & Recreation job, then I’ve also got to take care of stuff around the house, make sure the wife’s happy… if I feel like I’ve done all those things then I have more freedom to be creative.
What helps you recharge your creative batteries?
Family and the outdoors and just being at peace in nature. Being away from my cell phone or computer, Facebook… if I can just get that away from me to get peace then I’m definitely rejuvenated. And church for sure, being surrounded by a community that encourages me.
What always gets you excited about your craft?
Gosh, I wish the question was what DOESN’T get you excited. I’d say “Ugh, it’s so much work, not a lot of money…” [chuckles]
I think I’m learning that being able to help other people fulfill their creative endeavors is important and exciting. I’m finding that if I have friends that are out to be directors or out to write or produce, that should be my goal, to make sure that they are also achieving their dreams.
What is a daily (or regular) discipline you’re following right now, related or unrelated to film?
Coffee, first thing when I wake up. I stumble out of bed and pour about four cups of coffee all for myself, and I need a big bowl of Raisin Bran except for today I was out of Raisin Bran. [laughs] Then I usually try to watch the news or just check in with current events… gosh, I’m very 30.
Depending on the day, I’ll try to do at least a little bit of creative work, write something up, see if the creative juices are flowing and work on a script. Or if I’m in business mode I’ll catch up on emails — there’s like two different mindsets, business and creative. As my friend Adrian has described it, I feel like I try to procrastinate on one or the other with the opposite one.
In what ways have you improved over the past few years? What do you still struggle with?
What I’m improving on is communicating and being specific about what I want. I’m learning that from the kids I teach because if I speak ambiguously, then they’re all over the place, and I reap the chaos. I have to be very specific and authoritative. I’m not very good at being detailed — I’m more of a big-picture person. I struggle with structure. I’m more scatter-brained and have a million things flying around all at once.
Even if you never “succeeded” in filmmaking, what would keep you creating anyways?
It’s just part of me, as lame as that is. I think a lot of people have this creative energy and you have to be painting or drawing… you just feel a certain way and this is your response to it. I feel like as long as I’m breathing and reading books, watching movies, watching news, talking to other creatives, inspiring each other… I think I’m always going to have writing as a bare minimum. I’ll always be doing that. I’d be worried about myself if I just STOPPED.
What are your creative goals right now?
At the moment, I’m preparing for my third 48-hour film project. Really excited about that and going to be working with some good people. Those are always so fun. I come from an improv background, and that’s highly applicable in film even though it’s not as utilized in film as a whole. I feel like it’s a place where improvisation can flourish so I really enjoy those projects.
The other project I’m working on (which I haven’t really spoken of to too many people) is a feature film. I’m going to be submitting it to the Austin Film Society grant, and that deadline’s coming up June 2. It’s motivating me to get structured, be disciplined, take care of all the logistics, flesh out the script, talk about it, get other creative people on board to get excited about it… it’s tough. The film has to be out of pre-production stage and be production-ready, so by June 2 that’s the goal. [laughs] There’s still a lot of work to do.
Are there any tools, books, or other resources you would recommend to others starting out with filmmaking?
There’s a book called The Total Film-Maker by Jerry Lewis, the comedian — you wouldn’t think it but he’s a great filmmaker. He was very inspired by Charlie Chaplin. He would act, direct, produce, write… like a one-man band. So he’s been inspiring to me. It’s actually a pretty difficult book to find.
What other advice or words of encouragement would you give to other creators in your field?
For me what’s been encouraging is being close with family and friends and having my core fan base cheering me on. That’s been my driving force. My mom will comment on every video that I post. [laughs] And I love that. Like on Facebook for my films, she comments on every… single… post. “I’m so proud of you!” I never erase it or anything. Sometimes she’ll be the only one to comment and I’m like “yeah, thanks.” [laughs]
Get out of your own way, and just keep doing what you love and keep working and keep writing. If we can sub-quote my wife here, she says, “Have someone you can trust.” That’s definitely true, someone that can be honest with you and give you feedback. As creators I feel like we’re so sensitive to our work, it’s personal, and if we get one word of criticism it’s taken wrongly… but we need that because we’re not perfect. Especially at this stage, I know that I’m not, and I need to be told “that audio sucks” or “what were you thinking with that idea?”
It’s a very democratic time to be making film. Everything’s digital, so if you make something that’s cool, other people are going to find out about it. So there are no excuses, really… the only way to not succeed is to quit. So I would encourage whoever to just keep doing work and keep growing and keep on keepin’ on.